Before Final Fantasy changed the world and before Chrono Trigger became a cult classic, Dragon Quest pioneered the JRPG genre, effectively turning Dungeons and Dragons’ mechanics into an engaging video game.
Created by Yuji Horii and with character designs by the creator of Dragon Ball, Akira Toriyama, Dragon Quest quickly became a big hit, resulting in a prevailing myth that a new game in the series must be released during a weekend to avoid massive swaths of the Japanese public taking leave days to buy and play a new entry.
Over in English-speaking territories, Dragon Quest was overshadowed by its once-rival Final Fantasy. Initially arriving in the West as Dragon Warrior, the Dragon Quest identity was reclaimed after SquareSoft and Enix merged, effectively putting the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises under one roof.
Fast forward to today, we have access to a plethora of great Dragon Quest titles. Which one should you start playing if you want to get into the franchise? Well, here are some of our recommended titles:
Dragon Quest Builders 1 & 2
This Minecraft-inspired entry in the franchise is far from your usual JRPG antics, but it does do a great job of easing you into the world of Dragon Quest and its many idiosyncrasies. Unlike Final Fantasy’s more grimdark take on the genre, Dragon Quest leans into the more whimsical and fairy tale aspects of the fantasy genre.
Builders 1 and 2 does a good job of introducing this to the player, while shifting the focus to a more quest-based take on the survival-sandbox genre, and even has co-op mode to play with friends.
Dragon Quest V
One of the most influential entries of the series, Dragon Quest V presents a multi-generational story that plays with the conventions of the JRPG genre, and was even one of the first games to ever let players recruit enemies to their party, way before Pokemon made it its signature mechanic.
The game was originally released for the SNES, before making the jump to the Nintendo DS, iOS, and Android. There’s also an animated film adaptation called Dragon Quest: Your Story that you can watch on Netflix.
Dragon Quest VIII
The eighth entry of the series was the one that truly brought Dragon Quest VIII into the modern age, making it stand toe to toe with other JRPG contemporaries, while also cementing Dragon Quest’s focus on fantasy compared to Final Fantasy’s more experimental approach to world design.
Dragon Quest VIII features a refinement of the series’ best elements like the open-world, turn-based battles, and even the monster-capturing mechanic. The PS2 original might be hard to come by, so try out either the Nintendo 3DS version or the one available on iOS and Android.
Dragon Quest I, II & III
If you really want to see where the series started all those years ago on the Nintendo Entertainment System, the recent Nintendo Switch versions of the first three Dragon Quest games is one way to go. Granted, the ancient mechanics are pretty hard to get used to these days, and the difficulty is pretty hardcore.
It’s definitely quite a historical journey to go through what is now known as the Erdrick trilogy, and is definitely needed if you’re looking to experience the rest of the series. Even recent entries like Dragon Quest XI and Builders 2 have a ton of references and allusions to these three games. Either try these first or go through the other entries on this list before coming back to this trilogy.
Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age – Definitive Edition
With a title like that, Dragon Quest XI is truly the most epic title in the series. The only reason why it might be a little hard to suggest to newcomers is that it does contain a lot of callbacks to previous entries, with a whole 16-bit inspired section that pays homage to the series as a whole. But nonetheless, it does a great job of being a gamer’s first Dragon Quest game.
The modern graphics and game style is probably the best things about the eleventh entry of the series, with Square Enix masterfully making a smooth transition for the series into modern platforms. If you’re sick of the direction of recent Final Fantasy games practically dropping the whole fantasy aspect altogether, then Dragon Quest XI is a refreshing return to form for JRPGs. It’s available on the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, and PC.